Bill Torrey, the longtime hockey executive who helped build the expansion New York Islanders into a Stanley Cup winning dynasty, has passed away at the age of 83.
From NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s statement:
“From his iconic bow tie, retired by the Islanders organization, to his devilish sense of humor, he truly was one of a kind. He grew up in close proximity to NHL greatness, near the Montreal Forum, where his passion for the game at all levels developed at an early age. He attended as many games as he could in junior rinks, where he was as at home as at an NHL Board of Governors meeting – and his counsel was sought out at both.
“On a personal level, Bill was a close and cherished friend and a great source of counsel. I will miss his wit, wisdom and warmth.
“We send our condolences to Bill’s four sons, William, Richard, Peter and Arthur; to his brother, David, and sister, Jane; and to his 10 grandchildren. And we have no doubt that Bill’s passing also is being mourned by the countless executives, coaches and players whom he inspired, guided and personally developed; and the millions of fans who were thrilled by the teams he built.”
From the New York Islanders:
“Bill set the model for how to build a franchise with the leadership he instilled through his coaching staff, his innovative drafting methods and the trades he executed,” Islanders President and General Manager Garth Snow said. “He was a pioneer, who became a mentor and even better friend, to so many in the industry. The teams he constructed set records that may never be broken, including the four straight Stanley Cup Championships and 19 straight playoff series wins. On behalf of the entire organization, we send our deepest condolences to Bill’s family.”
From the Florida Panthers:
“We’re shocked and heartbroken by the news of William ‘Bill’ Torrey’s passing and extend our deepest condolences to his four sons and grandchildren,” Panthers owner Vinnie Viola said in a statement. “An original Panther and the forefather of our franchise, Mr. Torrey had a champion’s spirit and lived for the game. His indomitable energy and his commitment to hockey and to South Florida was inspiring. It was an honor to work with him and know him.”
After some time in the American Hockey League and then with the expansion Oakland Seals, Torrey was hired as the first employee of the Islanders, who themselves were entering the NHL in 1972. As general manager of the new franchise, he built what would turn into a powerhouse through the draft, selecting key components of future championship teams, including Hall of Famers Mike Bossy, Clark Gillies, Denis Potvin and Bryan Trottier. He also hired Al Arbour, who had won four titles as a player.
In building those winning Islanders teams, Torrey would made some shrewd trades to improve his club. The 1980 acquisition of Butch Goring from the Los Angeles Kings led to the forward being known as the “final piece of the puzzle,” as they would go on to win their first of four Cups two months later.
During his final season as Islanders GM in 1991-92, Torrey accepted LaFontaine’s trade request and sent him to the Buffalo Sabres as part of a package deal that brought Pierre Turgeon, Benoit Hogue and Uwe Krupp to Long Island. Another deal brought Steve Thomas in from Chicago and the moves paid off a year later after Torrey relinquished his titles of chairman and GM and moved into a consultant role. The Islanders would upset the defending back-to-back Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games to reach the Prince of Wales Conference Finals, where they would fall to the Montreal Canadiens.
New ownership meant change in the organization, so in 1993 Torrey joined yet another NHL expansion team as president of the Florida Panthers. A successful first three years in the league saw them record 83 points in 1993-94 and then reach the Cup Final two years later. Eventually, Torrey moved out of that role and had been serving as a special adviser to the general manager and an alternate governor.
His success earned him the 1983 Lester Patrick Trophy, induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1995 and banners in two NHL arenas. Along with one in BB&T Center in Florida, Torrey was honored in 2001 at Nassau Coliseum with a banner featuring his signature bow tie.
“The thing I liked about them was that they were small,” Torrey said during his Hall of Fame speech via Newsday. “You can fold them up and put them in your pocket. You can’t spill on them.”